Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

So Cool!

Libi Astaire

Before you turn down the thermostat, turn to the past — our ancestors had some pretty cool ways to beat the summer heat

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


Photo: Shutterstock

The Romans had a name for those sultry sweltering days of July and August: the Dog Days of summer. They thought the oppressive heat was caused by the star Sirius, also known as the Dog Star, which rises and sets with the sun during the summer months. 

But the Romans didn’t just talk about the weather. They also gave a lot of thought to finding ways to keep cool, as did most ancient peoples who lived in hot climates. Why should we care how people chilled out thousands of years ago? As it turns out, many of their solutions are still great ways to beat the summer heat.

Out of Sight, Out of Sunlight

If you’ve ever explored a cave, you already know the temperature inside is cooler than the air outside. An underground room, such as a basement, will also usually be cooler than the rooms on upper levels. While our early ancestors instinctively gravitated to these dark and deep places to get away from the blazing sun, not everyone liked to live in damp and completely sunless spaces. Some people therefore discovered that using mud to build houses could keep the interiors relatively cool, while allowing in some light through either a hole in the roof or small windows. 

Mud dwellings built by the Pueblo Indians in the American Southwest are still standing. You can also find mud houses in many parts of Africa. But other early peoples, such as a few ancestors of the Pueblo Indians, found a loftier way to stay cool: They built homes under the ridge of a cliff to create shade. A remarkable example is the 13th-century Cliff Palace found in Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park. Dwellings for about 100 people were built into a cliff, whose massive upper ridge sheltered many of the buildings from the hot sun for at least part of the day.


If you don’t fancy living in a cave or cellar or under a jutting cliff, here are a few “shady” things you can do to lower the heat:

• Keep your blinds and curtains shut during the hottest part of the day to block out the light. 

• Add awnings to windows — the shade they provide will cool the air before it drifts inside your home. A covered porch will do the same thing.

• If you don’t want to build an entire porch, consider adding an overhang to the roof — it will also stop the summer sun from directly hitting your house. 

• Planting shade trees is yet another way to protect your home from the blazing sun. 

• If you’ll be outside, use a parasol to create shade.

Photo: Shutterstock

Water Ways

“Go jump in a lake” might be the most sensible advice on a hot day. We Jews, of course, had our mikvaos, which were pleasantly cool. The Romans were enthusiastic builders of bathhouses that had both heated and cold waters to bathe in. The cold pool was called a frigidarium, and the term was also used for separate swimming pools that were built in some cities and palaces. In Eretz Yisrael, Herod built elaborate palaces in Masada, Jericho, and Herodium, which included bathhouses and swimming pools, and the remains of some of them can still be seen today.

Related Stories

Healer of a Broken People

Menachem Pines

On Rav Zalman Sorotzkin zt”l’s 50th yahrtzeit, Mishpacha opens a treasure trove of personal writings...

Behind the Mike

Barbara Bensoussan

Don’t let Yitzchok Saftlas’s nice-guy appearance fool you. The marketing guru has parlayed his inter...

Home Sweet Historic Home

Rifka Junger

Passionate about living in a 500-year-old Old City home, a beautiful 1920’s Tudor in LA, a quaint co...

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

The Fortunes of War
Rabbi Moshe Grylak We’re still feeling the fallout of the First World War
Some Lessons, But Few Portents
Yonoson Rosenblum What the midterms tell us about 2020
Vote of Confidence
Eyan Kobre Why I tuned in to the liberal radio station
5 out of 10
Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin Top 5 Moments of the Kinus
Day in the Life
Rachel Bachrach Chaim White of KC Kosher Co-op
When Less is More
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman How a good edit enhances a manuscript
It’s My Job
Jacob L. Freedman “Will you force me to take meds?”
They’re Still Playing My Song?
Riki Goldstein Yitzy Bald’s Yerav Na
Yisroel Werdyger Can’t Stop Singing
Riki Goldstein Ahrele Samet’s Loi Luni
Double Chords of Hope
Riki Goldstein You never know how far your music can go
Will Dedi Have the Last Laugh?
Dovid N. Golding Dedi and Ding go way back
Battle of the Budge
Faigy Peritzman Using stubbornness to grow in ruchniyus
The Challenging Child
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Strategies for raising the difficult child
Bucking the Trend
Sara Eisemann If I skip sem, will I get a good shidduch?
The Musician: Part 1
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer "If she can't read she'll be handicapped for life!"